Groups claim YouTube is violating the same child privacy law that brought down PiperChat in ‘Silicon Valley’
According to an FTC complaint filed by 23 child protection groups, YouTube is violating the same law that brought down Silicon Valley‘s PiperChat. In YouTube’s case, the complaint alleges, it’s for collecting data on children.
Silicon Valley fans will remember Dinesh Chugtai racking up a $21 billion fine — “the size of a small nation’s GDP,” he estimated — for violating the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) with his video chat app’s lack of what he calls “legal bullshit.”
The very real law establishes strict guidelines to protect the online privacy of children under 13. In the show, Dinesh failed to include a terms of service or way to obtain parental consent when adding his app, which was largely used by kids, to the app store. “I mean, nobody reads that stuff anyway,” he says, sweating profusely.
YouTube is now facing a similar problem IRL. The complaint filed to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Monday alleges that YouTube’s parent company Google violated COPPA by harvesting data from its users under 13, including location and unique device identifiers, and then used the information to target advertisements without obtaining “advanced, verifiable parental consent.”
Led by the Center for Digital Democracy and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the complaint calls for Google to change how it handles content for its underaged audience and wants YouTube to pay fines totalling “tens of billions of dollars” for profiting off of kids.
“Google has made substantial profits from the collection and use of personal data from children on YouTube,” the complaint says, “Its illegal collection has been going on for many years and involves tens of millions of U.S. children.”
YouTube’s terms of service state that users must be over 13 to create an account. But there are easy ways to get around it — parents can let their children use their accounts, kids can watch YouTube videos without logging in, or underaged viewers can lie about their age while creating an account. Marketing firm Trendera found that 45 percent of kids between 8 and 12 have a YouTube account.
COPPA was written in 1998 and expanded in 2012 to include new marketing techniques like unique identifiers on mobile devices and targeted ads.
YouTube isn’t turning a blind eye to its younger users, either. The complaint says that the company has “actual knowledge” that many children use its platform, as evidenced by the YouTube Kids app. The kid-friendly platform filters out inappropriate content and features educational cartoons and toy unboxing videos.
Even if AdWords, the most popular advertising service on Google, doesn’t allow advertisers to select an age group under 18, it can reach their young target audience with keywords like “baby” or “toy.” The complaint points out that AdWords even suggests specific keywords like “barbie doll dream house.”
A YouTube representative told the Guardian that “protecting kids and families has always been a top priority for us.”
“We will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve,” the statement says, “Because YouTube is not for children, we’ve invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app to offer an alternative specifically designed for children.”